Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Staying Normal in an Abnormal Corner of the World: Mental Health Counseling in Israel

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Staying Normal in an Abnormal Corner of the World: Mental Health Counseling in Israel

Article excerpt

In the course of the last four years, Israeli citizens have repeatedly been exposed to terrorist attacks, and there are several other issues in Israel's current situation that highlight the need for intensive mental health counseling. The article focuses on Israeli school counselors and describes some of the problems they were obliged to face in order to help schoolchildren, their families, or the entire school system stay normal in an abnormal situation. These issues include: death and mourning, social cohesion as a risk factor, immigrants' maladjustment, unemployment, intercultural conflicts, and spiritual debates. Implications for mental health counseling are offered.


People are amazed when they realize that the entire land area of the State of Israel is smaller than Yosemite Park and that the total number of its residents is smaller than the number of those living in the city of New York. Their amazement stems from the gap between these numbers and the prominent presence of Israel in the world news, especially in the course of the last four years, since the outbreak of another cycle of bloody armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Moreover, Israel's name is frequently mentioned in the context of several major recent developments in the world. The U.S. military operation in Iraq is one of these. Although Iraq is far away from Israel, before the U.S. troops' invasion of Iraq, Israel's citizens were trained how to use a gas mask in case of an Iraqi chemical attack on Israel. The reason for these preparations was the 1991 Gulf War, when U.S. troops invaded Iraq, and the Iraqis attacked Israel's civilian population in response. Although Israel had no part in that military operation, about 40 Iraqi Scud missiles hit some of its crowded urban civilian centers.

Some of Israel's unique characteristics (e.g., an immigrant society, in which Jews and Muslims coexist; being surrounded by hostile countries; compulsory military service for every Jewish male and female adolescent; very meager natural resources; and an extremely condensed geographical area) and their implications for counseling school and university students have been described (Israelashvili, 1993, 1996). The current article focuses on issues related to mental health counseling that Israeli school counselors had to address in the course of the last four years, since the outbreak of the most recent Israeli-Palestinian armed conflict in September 2000, known as the Al Aqsa Intifada.

According to the Board of Directors of the American Mental Health Counselors Association (cited in Palmo, 1996), mental health counseling deals with the provision of professional counseling services for the purposes of prevention of mental and emotional disorders and promotion of optimal mental health. In Israel, mental health counseling is not a certified profession. Nevertheless, most Israeli school counselors have recently faced the challenge of providing mental health counseling to prevent illness and dysfunctional behavior. This is due to the stream of events and threats that many Israeli school children have recently been intensively exposed to as described below.


A differential approach is needed when working with children of various ages. Regardless of age, exposure to certain types of events poses a threat to anyone s mental health. Recently, many Israeli school children have been intensively exposed to one kind of extremely threatening event, namely terrorist attacks.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and even before, its residents have often been exposed to terrorism. But the incidence of such attacks increased dramatically following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, following the failure of a coordinated attempt of Arab nations to defeat Israel. Another sharp increase in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens started in 1993, following the Israeli-Palestinian agreement also called the Oslo accords; this increased terrorist activity has not abated. …

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